I wouldn’t mind betting that the majority of visitors who walk up Whitehall are so focused on getting across the road to Trafalgar Square that they are completely oblivious to the fact that they are walking across the point that is regarded as the exact centre of London. It could be argued that it’s not the exact centre but it’s the point from which all distances to, and from, the capital are measured, and there’s a plaque in the floor to mark the spot.
I used to think that Charing Cross got its name from being at the intersection of Whitehall, The Mall, Cockspur St and The Strand, but it doesn’t. In actual fact the name originates from the Eleanor Cross that was erected here after Eleanor of Castile’s death in 1290. Eleanor was the wife of King Edward I who died on her way to Lincoln. Edward arranged a state funeral, and her journey back to Westminster involved twelve overnight stops, the final one being at the hamlet of Charing. A cross was erected at each of the stops.
In 1647 during the Civil War, Parliament had the Charing Eleanor Cross destroyed, and the same fate should have happened to the statue of Charles I which replaced it twenty eight years later.
The bronze statue of the King on horseback still stands here today, looking down Whitehall towards The Banqueting House where he was executed in 1649. The man himself may have fallen foul of the Parliamentarians, but his statue was hidden away by the man who should have melted it down and was finally installed here at Charing Cross in 1675 after the monarchy was restored.
If the King could have looked down from his “incorruptible Crown”, he may have been able to take some comfort from the fact that eight of the people who conspired against him, met their own fate on a scaffold next to his statue. Would Charles regard this as Divine Justice I wonder?
A more ornate replacement Eleanor Cross was installed in front of Charing Cross railway station in 1865, which was restored in 2009/10. Personally, I don’t think it would have done any harm if the powers that be could have created a more aesthetically pleasing environment for it when they had the opportunity.
Wandering around the streets of Westminster can be a strain on the legs, which is why so many people are looking for somewhere to take the weight off them. There are plenty of decent watering holes around, but unfortunately they invariably seem to be crammed to the rafters with nowhere to sit, but there’s one pub where I’ve always been lucky – the Ship and Shovell in Craven passage.
It has to be said that it’s more of a drinking pub than a place to eat, but it’s unique in having two separate bars either side of the passage, and well worth seeking out.